Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Keystone Pipeline is dead. Or is it?

A few years back, the Keystone XL pipeline was seen as a routine infrastructure project, designed to carry oil-like bitumen from Canada to the U.S. Gulf Coast. It's still no more than that, but it's become very much more.

Environmentalists say that it's a renewed commitment to dirty fuels at the expense of green energy. Keystone advocates say it's a project that will bring vital jobs. Neither is really true. The pipeline isn't a threat to green energy; it merely would provide stable and efficient transport for oil while other energy possibilities continue to evolve. It also isn't a jobs program; the employment it would provide is real, but mostly temporary. 

But now, Keystone appears dead. Or is it?

On Tuesday afternoon, President Obama vetoed a bill that authorized construction of the pipeline. He did so not with a flourish but with a quiet 104-word letter:

Here's what that letter didn't say: Keystone is a bad idea. Environmentalists hope Obama will say that shortly, once final Keystone reviews by eight federal agencies are completed. Several previous reviews have been inconclusive on whether Keystone, by itself, would add to greenhouse gases, given that the oil it transports will be extracted from the Canadian tar sands, anyway.

Obama, who was once non-committal about the pipeline's benefits and dangers, has cast a more scornful eye at it in recent speeches. But he's left himself flexibility Tuesday, depending on what those final reviews conclude.

What Obama did say is that the call on Keystone should come from him - and that he won't let an impatient Congress do an end-around on "established executive branch procedures." (This comes, of course, from an impatient president who did an end-around on established Congressional procedures when he crafted immigration policy disguised as an executive action. Consistency, once again, is not a virtue of either party.) 

So what comes next? Republicans will likely try again on Keystone, this time attaching similar pipeline language to a spending bill that Democrats and Obama will want to pass. It's a distasteful form of legislative arm twisting, and it probably would get vetoed again if it reached the President, which is unlikely.

What's more likely is that Keystone will get the nod in a couple years from a Republican president, or from President Hillary Clinton, who said in 2010 she was inclined to support the pipeline. (She's now declining to take a position until those agency reviews are in.) Clinton, who is no enemy of the environment, understood at one point that Keystone doesn't have to be, either. It's an efficient placeholder while we work our way toward the greener future we want. Or at least that's what Keystone was supposed to be, before it became the political trophy it is.

Peter St. Onge

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Why wait so long to audit city expenses?

Charlotte City Manager Ron Carlee did the right thing when he orderd an audit of the city's travel and expense account outlays. Few abuses can do more damage to the reputation and credibility of a public official or public body than fraudulent expense accounts and extravagant travel spending. Just ask rising young GOP congressman Aaron Schock of Illinois, currently fending off reports that he used thousands in campaign donor and taxpayer funds for private airplane rides and other questionable uses, including a Katy Perry concert with his interns.

To the credit of the 27 top city executives and 10 lower-level but heavy traveling employees, Charlotte's audit didn't find much in the way of blatant abuses. Officials found improper expenses in just 3 percent of the $123,581 tallied by the employees in the 2013 budget year. "Not outrageous," Carlee called it, adding that many of the missteps stemmed from inattentiveness to detail. All the improperly disbursed money has been repaid.

Carlee, hired in 2013, said he conducted the audit because, as the new guy, he's charged with making sure the city is following best practices. Apparently, it had not been doing so on this front. He said that to his knowledge, such an audit had never been done. City Auditor Greg McDowell says he can't recall a full expense reimbursement or travel audit in his 17 years at his post. An audit of city-issued payment card spending had been done a few years ago, but McDowell said he couldn't speak to just how long it might have been since a broader audit like the latest one had been done.

That's concerning. This was just an audit of a handful of the city's 7,000 or so employees. Who knows what else would have been found in a broader sweep? McDowell says he sees more audits in the future.  "As City Auditor, I have committed to future audits of employee expenses on a regular basis," he said in an e-mail. "The City Manager and Council will likely expect (the) same; however, audit plans are developed annually. There are no policies or directives that require specific audits, or a timeframe."

Members of the City Council's governance and accountability committee seemed satisfied that the audit didn't uncover major problems. But if they want to make sure that continues to be the case, they should enact policies to require departmental or broader audits on some reasonably regular basis.

--Eric Frazier

Friday, February 20, 2015

UNC anti-poverty advocate Gene Nichol blasts Board of Governors

Faced with a directive from the General Assembly to redirect $15 million from university research and policy centers  across the state, the UNC Board of Governors has spent months studying all 240 such centers systemwide. On Wednesday, the board's working group on the issue recommended closing UNC Chapel Hill's Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity. The center's director, Gene Nichol, has been an outspoken critic of N.C. Republican leaders' policies concerning the poor.

Gene Nichol

He responded to their action with this statement:

Poverty is North Carolina’s greatest challenge. In one of the most economically vibrant states of the richest nation on earth, 18 percent of us live in wrenching poverty. Twenty-five percent of our kids. Forty percent of our children of color. We have one of the country’s fastest rising poverty rates.

A decade ago, North Carolina had the 26th highest rate among the states. Now we’re ninth, speeding past the competition. Greensboro is America’s second-hungriest city. Asheville is ninth. Charlotte has the nation’s worst economic mobility. Over the last decade, North Carolina experienced the country’s steepest rise in concentrated poverty. Poverty, amidst plenty, stains the life of this commonwealth. Even if our leaders never discuss it.

And, astonishing as they are, these bloodless statistics don’t fully reveal the crush of economic hardship. That resides more brutally in the terror and despondency of the 150 or more homeless Tar Heels living in the woods and under the bridges of Hickory; or in the 1,100 wounded souls waiting in line, most all night long, outside the Fayetteville civic center, desperate for free dental care; or in the quivering voice of the Winston-Salem father who describes deciding which of his children will eat today and which, only, tomorrow; or in the daughter from Wilson fretting for her 62-year-old father with heart disease who can’t see a doctor unless he scrapes together the $400 he owes and has no prospects for.

Some believe such urgencies are beyond the focus of a great public university. Bill Friday wasn’t among them. An active and engaged Poverty Center board member, from its founding until the last days of his life, President Friday felt it crucial “to turn UNC’s mighty engine loose on the lacerating issue of poverty.” He constantly challenged our students: “A million poor North Carolinians pay taxes to subsidize your education. What are you going to do to pay them back?”

I’ve been blessed with a long and varied academic career. But none of my efforts has approached the extraordinary honor of working, side by side, with North Carolina low-income communities and the dedicated advocates and providers who serve them. Together, we have sought to focus a meaningful light on the challenges of poverty and to push back against policies that foster economic injustice. No doubt those messages are uncongenial to the governor and General Assembly. But poverty is the enemy, not the Poverty Center.

I have been repeatedly informed, even officially, that my opinion pieces have “caused great ire and dismay” among state officials and that, unless I stopped publishing in The News & Observer, “external forces might combine in the months ahead” to force my dismissal. Today those threats are brought to fruition. The Board of Governors’ tedious, expensive and supremely dishonest review process yields the result it sought all along – closing the Poverty Center. This charade, and the censorship it triggers, demeans the board, the university, academic freedom and the Constitution. It’s also mildly ironic that the university now abolishes the center for the same work that led it to give me the Thomas Jefferson Award a year ago.

The Poverty Center runs on an annual budget of about $120,000. None comes from the state. Grant funding has been secured through 2016. These private dollars will now be returned. UNC will have fewer resources, not more. Two terrific young lawyers will lose their jobs. Student education, employment and publication opportunities will be constricted. Most importantly, North Carolina’s understanding of the challenges of poverty will be weakened. These are significant costs to pay for politicians’ thin skin.

Personally, I’m honored to be singled out for retribution by these agents of wealth, privilege and exclusion. I remain a tenured law professor. When the Poverty Center is abolished, I’ll have more time to write, to speak, and to protest North Carolina’s burgeoning war on poor people. I’ll use it.
Fifty years ago, Chancellor William Aycock testified against the Speaker Ban Law, saying if UNC bowed to such external pressures, as it does today, it would forfeit its claim to be a university. He noted: “Our legislators do not look with favor on persons, especially teachers, who express views different than their own.” But no public official can be “afforded such immunity.” Leaders “freely extol the supposed benefits of their programs, but object to their harmful effects being called to the attention of the citizenry. ... The right to think as one wills and to speak as one thinks are requisite to a free society. They are indispensable to education.”
--Eric Frazier

Thursday, February 19, 2015

McCrory punts on Medicaid expansion

Gov. Pat McCrory is showing, again, who's in charge in Raleigh. And it's not Pat McCrory.

After repeatedly floating trial balloons about expanding Medicaid in North Carolina, McCrory now says he will kick that can down the road until summer at the earliest, and probably until 2016. McCrory told the Associated Press this week that he won't make a recommendation about Medicaid expansion until after the U.S. Supreme Court rules in an Obamacare case, probably this summer.

"I will not make any recommendation as to whether or not we extend insurance for the uninsured until the court case because there are so many ramifications of the court case," McCrory told the AP.

McCrory has indicated several times that he might be open to Medicaid expansion, a political lightning rod because it is part of the Affordable Care Act. Now it appears that McCrory has gotten the message from legislative leaders: Medicaid expansion is going nowhere. So McCrory has chosen not to fight for the uninsured, not to use his bully pulpit on the issue.

Twenty-eight states and the District of Columbia have expanded Medicaid eligibility under the ACA, including 10 led by Republican governors. Many or all of those GOP governors reversed their opposition under pressure from voters and hospitals who wanted the billions of dollars that would come to their states. Seven more states are considering expansion.

The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments next month in a case challenging some federal tax credits for coverage obtained through federal, not state, online exchanges. That case has not stopped a majority of U.S. states from moving forward.

Some 300,000 to 500,000 uninsured North Carolinians would qualify for federally funded coverage under the ACA. The federal government would pay 100 percent of the cost in the early years, and 90 percent thereafter. By not accepting the federal money, North Carolinians don't save those tax dollars; they send them to other states.

It would have been a tough fight to get any kind of expansion through the N.C. legislature. But McCrory won't even try. That's a political calculation that could go either way in McCrory's re-election bid next year.

-- Taylor Batten

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Let's put a freeze on the wind chill factor

You might have heard: It's going to be cold in Charlotte.

It's what people are talking about in our office and yours. The forecast is for unseasonably cold temperatures, brutally cold temperatures, so cold that weather people will quickly run out of adjectives trying to describe how godawful cold it is.

At some point, perhaps even before those adjectives lose their power to wow us, the weather people will resort to a different, brain-numbing phrase. 

The Wind Chill Factor. 

The wind chill factor serves one purpose: It lets us make bad weather seem spectacularly bad. 

Otherwise, it has no real-world value. It doesn't tell you how cold your skin is getting. Air temperature determines that. For example, if the air temperature is 37 degrees but the wind chill is 24, you are not in danger of getting frostbite. The air temp needs to be below freezing for that. 

Likewise, it doesn't tell us when our pipes will freeze. Wind can make things more frigid, which can accelerate the freezing of water, but air temperature is again the main factor. (Researchers at the University of Illinois have determined the pipe-freezing threshold is about 20 degrees. So make sure those outdoor faucets are covered tonight, Charlotte.)

Why even have a wind chill factor? The measurement was developed in 1945 by Antarctic explorers Paul Siple and Charles Passel, who put together an index that they felt would capture how cold we feel at various temperatures with wind blowing. 

There is an actual formula for wind chill. It's been tweaked some since 1945, but basically it assumes that it's nighttime, your exposed face is about five feet off the ground, and you're walking about 3 mph directly into the wind. If you're standing next to a building, or in the sun, or at 2 in the afternoon, you're feeling something different. 

And even then, wind chill is essentially only a calculation of that moment - not a general calculation of temperature - because the wind doesn't blow at a constant, steady rate. Yes, it's colder on your skin when the wind blows, but that number just can't be measured precisely.

Why, then, is it cited so often? As always, blame the media. The original wind chill index went largely ignored until the media got hold of it, specifically at the legendary Ice Bowl 1967 NFL championship game between Dallas and Green Bay in Green Bay. Temperatures that day were -13 degrees, but that didn't sound nearly as legendary as a wind chill of -48. 

So this week, when your weather person says the wind chill is -20, it's a dubious figure at best. That doesn't mean you shouldn't cover your skin when you go outside, especially if it's windy. And you definitely shouldn't do anything like this.

But wind chill is nothing more than meteorological boasting, and as with most boasting, that means 1) there's some exaggeration going on, and 2) nobody is that impressed, anyway. 

Peter St. Onge

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

10 things to do before your icy day is done

It's freezing outside.

There's ice on your neighborhood's roads.

There's no school.

You can work from home - or maybe not work at all.

But there is plenty you can do, even in one frigid day.

Call it your ice bucket list.

What should you accomplish before tomorrow sends us back to work and school?

Crunch some frozen stuff under your feet.

Make someone a cup of hot chocolate.

Draw your name in the front yard (with hot water, silly.)

If you're from a Northern state, annoy someone by telling them how winter was much more wintry where you grew up.

If you're from a Southern state, reminder your Northern stater how he or she clings to the air conditioning the moment the thermometer hits 90.

Remember those who cannot take warmth for granted. Give money today to an agency that brings food or clothing or a place to stay to those who need it most on weeks like this.

Earn your hot chocolate: Take at least one bumpy, icy sled ride with your children.

Do NOT cite the quarter-inch of ice as evidence that global warming is a hoax.

If you've ever criticized local schools or government for iffy weather choices, give credit today to the school district that canceled classes early and wisely, to the trucks that brined the roads, to the police and fire and emergency personnel who tended to everyone the icy roadways snared.

Check the February snowfall for any city in New England. It will be on the ground until April. Check the temperatures for Charlotte. The ice will be gone by 5.

Enjoy it.

Peter St. Onge

Friday, February 13, 2015

A chart shows the grades our schools should really get

An interesting chart is making the rounds. It shows how Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools would have performed on the state's A-F grades if the formula were weighted differently.

Under the law, a school's grade is based 80 percent on test scores and 20 percent on how much growth that school has shown. As a result, the grades were no surprise: Schools filled with poor kids did worse than schools with few poor kids.

Some critics, including the Observer editorial board, argue that the A-F grades would be vastly improved if more weight was given to how much growth a school has shown, not only where it is at one point in time.

This chart, which comes from CMS, shows what would happen.

Under the 80/20 formula, 47 CMS schools were given a D or F. If the formula were 50-50, no schools would get an F and 16 would get a D. If the formula were 20-80 (80 percent of the grade based on growth), five schools would get a D and none would get an F.

This is not tinkering the formula to make your schools get artificially better grades. It's tinkering the formula to more properly weight how much progress a school is making, which is an important measure. It just so happens that this more accurate gauge also reveals that public schools aren't performing as badly as the state grades lead you to believe.

Taylor Batten

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Phil Berger and Eric Frazier, pen pals?

Last week, the Observer's Eric Frazier wrote an open letter to N.C. Senate leader Phil Berger. Frazier urged Berger, arguably the most powerful man in state government, to start treating Gov. Pat McCrory more nicely. 

"As he heads into the last two years of his term, it's time you let him be the middle-of-the-road Republican the state thought it was electing in 2012," Frazier wrote.

He urged Berger to be open to McCrory's interest in Medicaid expansion and his idea of a billion-dollar transportation bond.

"If (McCrory) nudges toward the center lane, feel free to give him that stern raised-eyebrow look dads give mischievous kids. But hold your peace," Frazier wrote.

Berger took notice, and now responds with an open letter of his own back to Frazier. He writes that he and McCrory are better buds than Frazier gives them credit for -- and will continue to be in 2015.

Here's Berger's letter:

Dear Eric,

I’m sorry it took so long to respond to your open letter. Running a law practice, serving in the State Senate and spending time with grandkids was keeping me busy enough. As it turns out, searching for examples of the times I’ve supposedly embarrassed Gov. McCrory was even more time consuming.

I never found one. But here’s what I did find: loads and loads of cheap shots at the governor spread across your own pages, from editorials to columns to cartoons. Are you sure I’m the problem?

Rest assured, Eric: Compared to the treatment we typically get from North Carolina’s editorial writers, Pat and I consider each other family (I’m the *other* brother Phil).

Sure, the Governor and I have had honest, respectful disagreements about the complex details of public policy. That might be hard to fathom in the far-left ideological echo chamber of an editorial board meeting, where you tackle the major problems confronting our state – like an awkward hug between two Charlotte mayors. But in government, it happens daily, even (sometimes especially) with members of your own party. And that’s healthy for North Carolina.

Maybe you and I watched different State of the State addresses last week. At the one I attended, I heard the governor (from center stage, no less) champion a host of sweeping accomplishments: an unemployment insurance overhaul, tax reform, regulatory reform, teacher pay raises and much, much more.

None of that was achieved by fiat. The governor and the legislature worked together. We found common ground. We compromised. And eventually we landed in the same place: on solutions that we (and most voters, unlike most editorial writers) agree are best for North Carolina families.

Expect more of that cooperation in 2015 and, I’m sure much to this editorial board’s dismay, through 2020 – even if it follows a disagreement or two.

Thanks for writing.


Tuesday, February 10, 2015

What should we make of Carolina Panthers player Greg Hardy's accuser?

What are we to make of the dismissal of the domestic violence charge against Carolina Panthers player Greg Hardy?

Some people seem to be doing less judging of Hardy than they are of his accuser, Nicole Holder. After all, they note, District Attorney Andrew Murray's office said Holder has made herself unavailable to prosecutors and has apparently reached a civil settlement with the football star. Social media postings show that she's been snowmobiling in Colorado and snapping photos in New York City as the case unfolded and prosecutors searched for her.

The internet commenters have rendered swift, and merciless, judgment on her.

"Next stop, Dancing with the Stars," one reader joked in the comments section of the Observer's online story.

"This is why domestic violence cases are so often questioned by the general public," said another. "She disgusts me."

Harsh. It seems fair to say she lost at least a few sympathy points with many people who followed the story of the case since it began last year. Charlotte's most popular cocktail party game at the moment probably starts with the question: "How much do you think she received?"

Unfortunate, yes. In Hollywood movies, victims come pure of heart and innocent of motive. But in real life, people are too complex, and their interactions to messy -- especially in relationships -- to fit the neat scenarios we fashion in our minds.

Which is not to say the most recent developments mean Holder wasn't telling the truth when she said Hardy attacked her last year. Unfortunately, a jury may never get to make a final judgment on that. But it would be even sadder if people used what little information they have on this case as justification for casting a jaundiced eye on other women's domestic violence cases.

Experts tell us many women in such cases fail to cooperate, even when there is no wealthy football star on the other end of the accusation. Sometimes it's the pressure of being on the witness stand, having the most unpleasant, intimate details of your life dissected by strangers. Or it can be as simple as fearing for your life. 

Regardless of what caused the Holder case to unravel, we should all at least try to reserve judgment, and refrain from snarky remarks. We don't have all the facts. What we do know is that 62 women
died in domestic violence-related homicides in North Carolina in 2013. And that is nothing to joke about.

--Eric Frazier

Monday, February 9, 2015

Barber: GOP fears 'a future it cannot stop'

The Republican "Solid South" is on the verge of crumbling, and that's driving voter suppression laws, the Rev. William Barber says.

Barber, the N.C. NAACP president and organizer of Moral Monday legislative protests, visited the Observer's editorial board on Monday. He said blacks, whites and Latinos could come together to transform Southern politics. He called it "the embryonic stages of a third Reconstruction," following Reconstruction after the Civil War and the civil rights movement of the 1950s and '60s.

"The electorate that elected President Obama and pushed Southern states out of the so-called white Solid South was a sign of the birthing of the possibility of a third Reconstruction, which is why we believe there has been such an intensity on denying and suppressing the right to vote," Barber said.

He added:

"I say that we have the potential in the South right now -- we know that if ... registered black voters connect with progressive whites and Latinos, you could transform fundamentally the South. That the old Southern Solid South has a lot of cracks in it and that I believe a morally, constitutionally based fusion movement that stays its course has the potential to assist this birthing of a third Reconstruction. And I believe that is why extremists are not waiting like they did from 1868 to 1896 and from 1954 to 1968, but they are attacking it right now because they see it.

"They are reacting to a future they cannot stop and I believe that the South is once again going to transform the nation."

We suppose it's possible. But it would certainly take a while. Republicans' grip on power in North Carolina has never been stronger, and voters made it even tighter in elections just three months ago. North Carolina has gone from red to purple in recent years, but purple to blue? 

Barber is leading a "mass mobilization" in Raleigh this Saturday as part of his "Forward Together Moral Movement." He wouldn't speculate on how many people would show up. He did make clear that he and the grassroots network he has built have no intention of going away anytime soon.

-- Taylor Batten

Friday, February 6, 2015

America's growing polarization, in one chart

America's growing polarization is old news. But a new chart from Gallup suggests it goes beyond President Obama and recent incarnations of Congress.

The country, Gallup numbers show, has been steadily growing more divided for a couple of decades now. Check out this chart. In the 40 years from President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1953 to the first President George Bush in 1993, the gap between how Republicans and Democrats felt about the president stayed in a pretty narrow band (with a tick up for Ronald Reagan).

Since then? The gap grows, with a big jump under Bill Clinton, more polarization with George W. Bush and now the most on record under Obama. How long can this trend last? Til it hits 100?

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Are 72-year-olds incapable of sharp thought?

Rep. Dan Bishop of Charlotte has filed a bill to change the law that forces judges to retire at age 72. But it's not the change that's needed.

Bishop, with three co-sponsors, filed a bill Wednesday that would have judges retire on Dec. 31 of the year they turn 72. Current law forces them to retire on the last day of the month in which they turn 72. So the bill would give judges one to 11 extra months before facing mandatory retirement.

That's fine as far as it goes. The change, we imagine, is designed to have a more orderly replacement for the retiring judge. The seat could be on the November ballot and avoid a long vacancy, an appointment, or a special election.

The bill fails, though, in that it does nothing to address the main problem: North Carolina arbitrarily forces outstanding judges into retirement even if they are as mentally and physically as strong as ever. Rather than tinkering with the precise retirement date, North Carolina needs to eliminate the mandatory retirement age of 72 altogether.

Then-Justice Sarah Parker thanks a
waitress at a retirement lunch last year.
As we said in an editorial last August, the law forces out good judges who want to keep working and should be allowed to. N.C. Chief Justice Sarah Parker of Charlotte and Superior Court Judge Bill Constangy were both forced to retire last August because of the age limit. Neither was known to have faltered in any way in their abilities.

The law took effect in 1971, when life expectancies and abilities after age 70 were quite different from today. Working at a high level past age 72 is now common in many fields. Federal judges, by comparison, face no mandatory retirement age. And it's costly: the retiring judge gets a healthy pension while the state pays another judge to take the seat.

As we said in August, "The bigger cost, however, is the experience and wisdom that leave the bench when judges are forced to retire. Let judges -- and the people who elect them -- determine when it's time to go."

Bishop should upgrade his bill by amending it to abolish the age-72 requirement, not just push the retirement off a few months.

-- Taylor Batten

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

What on earth happened to Thom Tillis?

Two takeaways from Thom Tillis going viral Tuesday by saying restaurants maybe shouldn't have to make their staffers reach for the soap:

1) Speechmaking is hard. Thom Tillis is not a dumb man. He can work his way in and out of policy particulars with the best of them. Yet there he was Tuesday with a Class A Washington Uh-Oh. He grossed out America with mental pictures of restaurant staffers handling their food after a soap-free trip to the restroom. Even worse, he proposed replacing one regulation (a sign requiring handwashing at restaurants) with another regulation (requiring restaurants to say they don't wash hands) all in the name of smaller government.

What happened here? Our theory: He tried to go off-script a little. He wanted to be a little funny. He wanted to be a little bold. So he veered from the prepared notes and thoughts that politicos bring to these forums. It's certainly not the first time he's blurted something less-than-smart or tried too hard to impress his audience.

It's also a reminder: It's hard to stand in front of audiences, be intelligent, keep things interesting, and say what the people want to hear. Politicians who do it well should be admired for their smarts, not ridiculed for their smoothness. Tillis is thoughtful and forthright, but too quick to freelance. Given the national ridicule he invited Tuesday, we're guessing he'll be a quick learner, too.

2) Tillis is wrapping a good idea in bad packaging. The good idea is to take a thoughtful look at regulations. See which of them might be duplicative. See which might be unnecessary. (Is encouraging handwashing unnecessary? If you've ever worked in a kitchen, you'd say no.) The bad packaging is "small government," because the goal behind looking at regulations shouldn't be to reduce the size of government, but to make government work better.

This is the trap Republicans too often find themselves in with regulations. They could sell a solid outcome - improving government - but they chain themselves to the sexier outcome, making government smaller. Tillis got tangled in the latter yesterday, then compounded his mistake by proposing something that didn't even make government smaller.

One more takeaway: With all this talk about handwashing Tuesday, we couldn't help but remember one of our favorite grumps, Charlotte's Robert D. Raiford, proposing that we all never shake hands again

Peter St. Onge

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Tillis: Kill handwashing rules for restaurants

Our newly minted U.S. Senator Thom Tillis has found himself at the center of a viral video today, thanks to his comments at a policy forum that he'd be OK with cutting government regulations that might require restaurant employees to wash their hands after using the bathroom.

He said so in the course of speaking out against what he believes to be an over-regulated American society. He said he'd be fine with allowing restaurants to opt out of such regulations, provided they post a sign saying that their employees don't wash their hands after going to the bathroom. That, he added, would allow market forces to dictate the matter rather than government, as such restaurants would quickly go out of business for lack of customers.

It's in keeping with his small-government political philosophy. But even with the context, it still sounds awful weird for anybody to speak up against rules forcing handwashing by restaurant workers. (It appears he's talking about Section 2-301.14(B) of the N.C. Food Code Manual, if you care to get technical about it). It's pretty understandable that the host of the chat, held earlier this week at the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington, takes a humorous jab at him by winding up their chat with, "Well, I'm not sure I'm going to shake your hand..." before thanking him for his time and -- yes -- shaking his hand.

Thanks for your thoughts on that, Thom. If it's all the same, we'll stick with the mandatory hand-washing rules. We're pretty sure restaurants can survive them.

--Eric Frazier

Is South Carolina better for minorities than North Carolina?

North Carolina, with liberal enclaves like Chapel Hill and a national political profile as a "purple" state, tends to think of itself as a more progressive place than South Carolina.

A new study out today suggests we might want to think again. The report, from consumer finance website Wallet Hub, ranks South Carolina far more favorably in measuring states with the highest and lowest financial gaps by race and ethnicity. Wallet Hub reached that conclusion after studying 21 metrics across all states, including unemployment rates, home ownership rates, household income rates and educational attainment figures.

Source: WalletHub

The result: Florida comes in at No. 1, having the smallest overall income gaps by racial and ethnic groups. South Carolina ties with Indiana for the 27th spot. North Carolina lands at No. 39, just below North Dakota and just above Georgia. Key stats for North Carolina:

  • A 37.41 percent gap in median household income between whites and blacks.
  • A 42 percent gap in home ownership rates between whites and Latinos.
  • A 177 percent gap in poverty rates between whites and Latinos.
  • A 60 percent gap in highest educational attainment between whites and Latinos.
Why such big gaps? Is it institutional racism and the residual legacy of Jim Crow segregation? Are minorities  not trying hard enough to earn their fair share of the American Dream? Or is the answer more complex for either of those questions?

The study doesn't spell out exactly why North Carolina might fare better or worse than other states on specific measures. But Wallet Hub did ask several economists and scholars for their overall take on the persistence of financial inequities in America.  The growth in real estate values and the rise of the tech economy have contributed to the widening of the wealth gap, several said, since minorities still lag in home ownership and higher education.

One of the experts questioned was Omar Ali, a history professor in the African Diaspora Studies program at UNC Greensboro. Interestingly, he singled out the two major political parties, which he said essentially work in tandem to promote the interests of wealthy individuals and companies that finance their political campaigns. He suggests their policies -- even those by a sitting African American president -- tend to boost established powers more so than the interests of the disadvantaged, who tend to be mostly people of color.

"But it's not the wealthy who are to blame," he adds. "They are simply doing what's most rational (I'm not saying ethical); the problem is at the public policy level, where the parties (which are private entities) have substituted themselves as public entities. We need to increase the power of ordinary voters and decrease the power of the parties in the U.S."

What do you think? Are you surprised that South Carolina ranks better on these measures than North Carolina? Does Ali have a point?

--Eric Frazier

Monday, February 2, 2015

Charlotte City Council takes an in-town road trip

You've been hard at work, day after day, trying to stay on top of the daily blizzard of to-dos. Getting the kids to soccer practice. Keeping the boss happy. Balancing the checkbook. Shopping for groceries. Walking the dog. Sometimes it feels like you're so busy doing things that you can't even remember if you're actually doing the right things.

So, every once in a while, you take a little time off from the daily grind, maybe think about those big-picture issues that get lost in the fog of everyday busy-ness. And suddenly, it feels like you've got a better handle on things.

Seems like that's where Charlotte's City Council found itself at the end of last week. The council members, on their annual planning retreat, spent Wednesday and Thursday doing bus tours of all the council districts, stopping at specific spots where district representatives could point out specific issues or projects. For instance, District 1 representative Patsy Kinsey showed council members the ongoing city-backed renovations at Mecklenburg Mills in NoDa. Here's a video the city produced from that stop:

After the tours, council members on Friday gushed about how much insight they'd gained by getting to see some of the city's key places, people and issues first-hand. Not surprisingly, the seven district representatives, who by design fight for their specific part of town, were among the most ebullient.

District 3 representative LaWana Mayfield thanked her colleagues for being open to learning more about specific challenges in the districts. "We won't always agree, but for me, this has been the best conference for our council retreats that I have been a part of to this point."

District 6's Kenny Smith agreed: "To see how we govern was an important part of this retreat for me ... when we're up at the dais and when we vote, I now have more insight into your thought patterns and hopefully you have more insight into my thought patterns. To me, this was just a great retreat."

To which one is tempted to say: You guys really ought to get out more often.

And it appears they will. Mayor Dan Clodfelter suggested they look for issues they can block out a couple of hours on specific days for "targeted mini-tours." That's a good idea. City Council members are part-time public servants, generally facing a blizzard of staff-generated reports and analysis on issues of the day. And since we elected them, not the staff, we need for them to actually know what they're talking about when they're sitting at that dais. They can get a much better sense of the city's needs by seeing things first-hand. Much better than say, sitting around a (high-priced) conference table in Pinehurst or Asheville, the typical hosts for planning retreats.

So, good for our City Council members. Here's hoping other local government leaders take notes.

--Eric Frazier

Thursday, January 29, 2015

What Sarah Palin has in common with Jesse Jackson

If you're among the many critics of Sarah Palin, the news of her recent rambling speech in Iowa and the conservative fallout around it won't be that surprising. Still, it reminds me on a smaller scale of the similar sort of "fading star" treatment the Rev. Jesse Jackson got from Democratic Party leaders after his presidential runs were all done and nobody seemed to know what a Jesse Jackson should be doing if not running for president.

Many wanted him to run for mayor of Washington, D.C., which at the time was still struggling with longtime mayor Marion Barry's much-documented troubles with cocaine and extramarital affairs. But in 1989, as a potential Jackson mayoral bid loomed, the always-quotable Barry issued perhaps the most stinging zinger ever landed against the civil rights icon when he told a reporter: "Jesse don't wanna run nothin but his mouth."

Jackson's influence slipped further in 2001 with news that he'd fathered a child by a woman with whom he'd had an extramarital affair. He has since watched the younger Rev. Al Sharpton slip past him to become today's arguably most prominent civil rights activist, with a talk show on MSNBC and his own national organization.

It appears conservatives have a similar back-seat role in mind for Sarah Palin. With the exception of his much-publicized crude remark against then-Sen. Barack Obama in 2008, Jackson seems to have taken it with quiet grace. It remains to be seen if Sarah Palin is willing to go as gently into that good night.

--Eric Frazier

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

One question the school board will definitely ask the next CMS superintendent

CMS school board chair Mary McCray, vice chair Tim Morgan and general counsel George Battle met Wednesday with the Observer editorial board and education reporter Andrew Dunn. We'll have an editorial later on what they said about new superintendent Ann Clark and how they still don't seem to understand why an outside counsel is needed to look into the investigation and resignation of Heath Morrison.

But Morgan did say he'd learned one thing from the departure of Morrison. Next time, he says, he'll ask each superintendent candidate this question:

"When you took the job you're in, who followed you?"

Morrison apparently didn't bring anyone to Charlotte in 2012 from the Reno-area school district where he was superintendent. That's telling now, given that Morrison resigned amid allegations that included berating and mistreating CMS staff. To be fair, though, the school board can't really be blamed for not thinking to ask that specific question in 2012 of the very highly regarded Morrison.

Failure, however, is instructive, and Morgan says the board will "dig a little deeper" into the next superintendent-to-be. That will likely involve not only traveling to the districts where the candidates work, but conducting what Morgan called "some anonymous meetings" to see how the candidate's subordinates really feel. McCray even suggested showing up at a church or two and striking up some conversations.

We're all in favor of good reporting.

Peter St. Onge

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

From a Patriots fan: Hammer them, NFL

Because this kind of thing is important to some, let's get it out of the way: I'm a New England Patriots fan. I happened to write about that just last week.

But if the NFL finds that the Patriots willfully deflated footballs - 11 of the 12 used in the AFC Championship were underinflated, ESPN reported this morning - then the Indianapolis Colts should be the AFC representative in next Sunday's Super Bowl.

Otherwise, the NFL will be no better than NASCAR, which diluted its product and alienated its fans by allowing one of its best teams to continually violate the rules without significant punishment. That team, of course, was Jimmie Johnson's No. 48 team, which chronically cheated yet faced only fines and meaningless team points penalties.

Johnson won five titles, but as I wrote in 2012

It's almost impossible now to conclude that the 48 won five NASCAR championships without the benefit of cheating. And while the culture inside and out of NASCAR garages has forever been "it ain't cheatin' if you don't get caught," if it still ain't punished when you do get caught, what are you left with?

The NFL faces the same question today. No, both teams didn't use the same deflated footballs (each team supplies the balls its offense uses) and yes, it's easy to say that New England would have won if the football were filled with sand. Perhaps, but perhaps not. Who knows whether Tom Brady would have thrown another first-half interception with a ball that was less comfortable? Who knows how the game would have flowed if the halftime score were different?
 Also, it's besides the point. Punishing cheating isn't about predicting what might have happened had the cheating not occurred. It's about assuring the fans that there is integrity in the outcome. As I wrote in 2012:  
Punishment in sport is a tricky endeavor - part deterrent for athletes, part salve for fans. Even in sports where cheating is acknowledged as an everybody-does-it reality, punishment gives fans the appearance of integrity, the sense that their sport's field is level because the possibility exists that cheaters will suffer real consequences.

Johnson's fans argued then what Patriots fans will argue now: That unless there's proof he participated in the cheating, it's unfair to punish him. After all, he can't control what everyone in his organization does. But Johnson then, and Pats coach Bill Belichick now, can and do make clear what is acceptable and unacceptable in their organizations. And as any coach will tell you, teams share success and ignominy together.

Or at least they should. My guess: Belichick and the Patriots will say they had no idea that an attendant deflated the footballs, and the NFL will gladly run through that hole and punish the Patriots only with fines and perhaps the loss of a draft pick or two. Patriots haters will argue that they should get more - and that a New England win two Sundays from now win will forever be tainted.

This time, they'll be right.

Peter St. Onge



Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Chiquita waves goodbye

News today that Chiquita is closing its Charlotte headquarters reminds us of what we said last year as the company explored merging with an overseas firm:

Previously published March 12, 2014
Kevin Siers

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

CMS' George Battle: School board isn't hiding anything in Morrison affair

Two months have passed since the surprise resignation of former Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Superintendent Heath Morrison. Contrary to the old truism about time and wounds, this one seems pretty reluctant to heal.

CMS General Counsel George Battle III met with reporters and editors at the Observer Tuesday. Battle, regarded by his critics as the architect of Morrison's downfall, feels a bit wounded by how the affair has shaken out. He said he's been painted by critics as an out-of-control lawyer who did a hatchet-job investigation after the superintendent resisted his plan to reorganize the legal department.

He called the notion that he was on a vendetta to get rid of Morrison "a silly premise." He said he has had policy disagreements with other CMS leaders and still has strong relationships with them. He stood by his decision not to ask for an outside counsel to investigate allegations that Morrison bullied staff and misled the board on the cost of a school at UNC Charlotte. He said using outside counsel would have been a more adversarial approach. It could have required suspending Morrison with pay, causing disruption to schools in the midst of the investigation.

The UNC Chapel Hill graduate and former candidate for Congress said he resents that his professionalism and integrity have been questioned. He even went so far as to pass out copies of his job description, state bar rules governing the client-lawyer relationship, and copies of his last job evaluation. (He received good marks from all nine board members, including, he noted, Eric Davis, who has expressed support for Morrison and has called for an outside attorney to review the process that led to Morrison's departure).

Still, Battle said that because he is bound by confidentiality restrictions, he can't clear up many of the important questions still lingering around the affair. He said his report to the board was more like a summary of the allegations against Morrison -- a sort of "Cliff's Notes" of what he found. That only raises more questions, but he said he couldn't answer without airing information he's not allowed to share.

He understands that his report fails to connect all the dots necessary to explain exactly what triggered the investigation, his handling of it, and the board's oversight. He said he understand's the public's curiosity, and its frustration. Asked if there's any way legally for the board to share all the information it would take to clear up all the questions, he reiterated that the board must balance its desire to be transparent with its legal obligation to protect employee privacy and honor its contracts.

All he could really offer, in the end, is his word. And no matter how strong his code of personal and professional ethics might be, that's still no substitute for a full accounting of what happened.

"There is nothing being hidden by the board," he said. "If they were trying to be slick and trying to shove something under the rug, don't you think they would have anticipated all this better?"

Given the cascade of criticism the school board has taken in recent months, that might have been among his most convincing points.

Eric Frazier

Monday, January 12, 2015

Block parties and painting the town red

A foundation's challenge to Charlotte has brought out clever ideas, from neighborhood mashups to artistic bike lanes to porch swings all over town.

The Knight Foundation received more than 7,000 submissions nationwide after it launched the first Knight Cities Challenge. The project was designed to generate ideas for making 26 communities where Knight invests "more vibrant places to live and work." Today the foundation named 126 finalists, including eight in Charlotte.

The finalists are now being asked to give the Knight Foundation more detail about their proposals in the next three weeks. The foundation will then select winners who will receive a share of $5 million. Many of the Charlotte proposals are promising. Kudos to all who care enough about our city to pursue these ideas.

Here are the eight Charlotte finalists:

·       21st Century Office Access in Charlotte and Beyond by Charlotte Center City Partners (Submitted by Allison Billings): Opening up underused office space in the city to startups and small-scale entrepreneurs through an online platform and creating a model for a business space cooperative that would give companies the flexibility to expand to untested markets or to grow or shrink their workforce according to demand. 
·       Art on the Asphalt (Submitted by Francene Greene): Redesigning bike lanes as blank canvases for local artists to create visuals that depict Charlotte life, history and diverse culture.
·       Connect.Occupy.Transform by LandDesign (Submitted by Kate Pearce): Connecting creative entrepreneurs with the owners of underused space in Charlotte’s urban core to revitalize the North End neighborhood and create a model for redevelopment that could be applied across the city and in other metropolitan areas. 
·       CrownTown Fest by Charlotte Area Transit System, City of Charlotte (Submitted by Jason Lawrence): Weaving together the diverse fabric of neighborhoods, business centers and hidden gems by creating a citywide festival that would use bike-share programs, transit and walking to encourage people to move between venues.
·       Neighborhood Mash-Up (Submitted by Michael Solender): Uniting residents by pairing different neighborhoods across the city to come together on two consecutive Saturdays to host simultaneous block parties that highlight businesses, houses of worship, parks, schools and other resources.
·       No Barriers Project  by City of Charlotte (Submitted by Sarah Hazel): Identifying the physical barriers that separate different neighborhoods and engaging diverse groups to work together on lessening the impact of those divisions with tools such as gardens and public art.
·       “Porch” Swings in Public Places by City of Charlotte (Submitted by Tom Warshauer): Installing porch swings at bus stops and in other public spaces to encourage community interaction and use of public spaces.
·       Take Ten Initiative by Charlotte-Mecklenburg Storm Water Services, City of Charlotte (Submitted by Alyssa Dodd): Bringing people together by challenging municipal workers to take 10 minutes every week to connect with a new city resident and ask for their feedback.

Supreme Court should take up gay marriage

Updated, 12:20 p.m.:

The U.S. Supreme Court could decide this week whether to take up the gay marriage question, days after N.C. leaders petitioned the court to rule on the constitutionality of North Carolina's now-defunct ban.

While Sen. Phil Berger and other Amendment One backers are tilting at windmills, they have a point: Until the Supreme Court settles the question once and for all, the legal fights and uncertainty will persist. Two federal judges separately struck North Carolina's ban down late last year, but Berger and others continue to fight.

A lesbian couple from Detroit has challenged Michigan's gay marriage ban. A federal judge ruled in their favor last year, but a federal appeals court stayed the decision. Gay marriage is now legal in 36 states, and conflicting rulings from federal appeals courts could prompt the Supreme Court to settle the matter.

The court this morning declined to hear a case from Louisiana. That case has only been ruled on in federal district court and has not made its way through the federal appeals court yet. The Supreme Court could still take up a case from Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky or Tennessee.

However you feel about the legality of gay marriage -- and we think anything less is outright discrimination -- the Supreme Court would now be abdicating its role by declining to take it up. In the meantime, we get nonsensical statements that ignore the Constitution's role of protecting the minority, like this one from incoming N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore:

"Regardless of where you stand on the ultimate issue, it is important to protect the will of the North Carolina voters who overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment."

-- Taylor Batten

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Charlie Hebdo attack hits home in Charlotte

To many Americans, the terrorist attack at the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris Wednesday was a horrific event but ultimately just another faraway chapter in an ongoing war with Muslim extremists, involving an organization they'd never heard of. For journalists, and especially editorial cartoonists like the Charlotte Observer's Kevin Siers, the murder of four cartoonists and six other journalists (and two police officers) was a breathtaking, almost personal, assault.

Siers has been the Observer's cartoonist since 1987. His work is so powerful, so funny, so poignant that last year he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize, journalism's highest honor. With just a pen, he almost daily calls out the foibles of public figures to hundreds of thousands of people. Because it is a cartoon, and because Siers is so good, his message often feels more like a smack to the head than the back-and-forth debate a 500-word editorial often prompts.

There are no sacred cows to Siers, or any cartoonist worth his pay. He calls out Democrats and Republicans, government officials and tea partiers -- anyone whose actions or words deserve derision. For that, he receives angry e-mails and phone calls every week.

But he doesn't receive death threats, and that speaks to a difference between how editorial cartoonists are regarded in the United States compared with much of the world. Here, they are entertainers or irritants, the provocateurs that readers love or love to hate. In Europe, the Middle East and elsewhere, their work is taken more seriously, and extremists regard them as an existential threat. Both here and there, cartoonists embody the power of freedom of expression and the power of ideas. Those are values that most Americans cherish, but terrorists, of course, do not.

The hope is that, just as a violent attack could not stop the ideas of then 15-year-old Malala Yousafzai, this one can not intimidate journalists anywhere into silence. Siers and other cartoonists around the world showed their support for free expression and solidarity with the Charlie Hebdo artists the best way they can: with their pens.

Here are some of their responses. Others are available here and here.

-- Taylor Batten

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

The inaugural 2015 Mayoral Power Rankings

Candidates for Charlotte's 2015 mayoral race can't file officially until July, but that hasn't stopped some from expressing various levels of desire to run, the Observer's Jim Morrill reported last week.

You know what that means: It's time for the inaugural 2015 Mayoral Power Rankings - the candidates we think have the best chance to become Charlotte's 58th mayor (and fifth since 2013.)

We did our first power rankings for the 2013 mayoral race, and if we do say so ourselves, we nailed it. At the top of our rankings in May 2013 was ... current mayor Dan Clodfelter! OK, Mayor Clodfelter took a somewhat circuitous route to the office, but of the candidates who entered the 2013 race, we had eventual winner Patrick Cannon and challenger Edwin Peacock as No. 1 and 2 in our rankings. So there's that. 

Let's try again. A reminder: These picks are not endorsements. They are not necessarily who we think should have the best chance next November. (For the record, we endorsed Peacock two years ago.) Also, the list will surely change as folks decide they want in and out of the race - and as the campaign heats up and we see who's adept on the trail.

For now, our Top 7. Tell us who we missed:

1) Dan Clodfelter - D: Thumb on the scale for the incumbent. Clodfelter remains a candidate with crossover appeal to liberals and moderates, blacks and whites. He's not been particularly inspiring as mayor - we're waiting for some vision and charisma - but dullness might be an asset to voters whose  last mayor is settling into a prison cell.

2) David Howard - D: He's the hardest worker on the City Council. He has deep roots in the African-American community. He has integrity. One disadvantage: Most of that work is the gets-things-done-behind-the-scenes variety. It's valuable, but not sexy. This election, that's OK. (See Cannon, Patrick.)

3) Jennifer Roberts - D: The most eager of the candidates, perhaps too much so for voters. But she seems to be at every meeting and function and happy event in Charlotte. As county commissioner Pat Cotham knows, that counts for more than most people think.

4) Vi Lyles - D: The first-term City Council member has the right stage presence, plus a background in city finance. But thus far, her City Council term has been little more than face time, as she seems reluctant to stake out firm positions that matter. Until she does, she'll be the rookie in the Democratic field.

5) Michael Barnes - D: Some people think the current mayor pro-tem might be the person on this list who'd make the best mayor. He's thoughtful and independent. He commands respect on the council and in the city. But he's shown little public enthusiasm for higher office, and political observers wonder if he really wants it.

6) Edwin Peacock - R: No, we don't think he's running again, either. But until he says he's not, his is the first name that people offer on the Republican side of the race. A Peacock candidacy - like any Republican candidacy in Charlotte - would be difficult. But as editorial page editor Taylor Batten wrote in 2013, it's not impossible.

7) The Unknown Republican: After Peacock, then who? City Council member Kenny Smith and county commissioner Matthew Ridenhour are smart, popular and strong public servants, but neither has won a city-wide election or seems inclined to try just yet. We hope Scott Stone doesn't inflict himself upon another election, and although Republicans and other observers murmur about Charlotte businessman Frank Dowd, we're skeptical his unbending conservatism would fly in this left-of-center city.

That leaves Republicans as weakly positioned as perhaps they've ever been in Charlotte. It's the product of a city that has become increasingly Democratic, but it's also the result of a Republican party that hasn't done enough to cultivate strong young politicians. At least some party leaders in Charlotte know that. Those who don't need only look at the list above.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Why North Carolina is losing the biggest battles in the job recruitment war

Chalk up another loss on the economic development front for North Carolina.

Mercedes-Benz, after considering several cities in the state, is reportedly taking its U.S. headquarters to Atlanta. The luxury automaker joins a growing list of prestigious business brands who have thought about moving major operations to the Tarheel State, only to bypass us for other suitors.

Last year, a $107 million offer couldn't land Toyota's U.S. headquarters in Charlotte. They picked Plano, Texas. A whopping $683 million offer couldn't land Boeing's new 777x jetliner plant, which Washington state secured with a massive $8.7 billion incentives deal, then the largest corporate tax break in U.S. history.

Also in the last two years, the state lost out to Lancaster County on a $218 million Chinese textile plant and to Chester County on a $560 million tire plant. S.C. officials offered an incentives deal 10 times larger than North Carolina for the textile project and a deal with tens of millions more in tax savings on the tire project.

Gov. Pat McCrory, left, and Sealed Air CEO Jerome A. Peribere announced last year that the firm will move its headquarters to Charlotte, bringing 1,262 jobs.

Read more here:

To be sure, there have been big job recruitment wins in recent years, such as Sealed Air Corp.'s decision last year to move its headquarters and nearly 1,300 jobs to Charlotte, and MetLife's decision the year before to move about twice as many jobs to Charlotte and the Triangle. Still, there are signs of frustration setting in for Gov. Pat McCrory. He told business leaders at a gathering in Durham Monday that he doesn't have the tools he needs to attract big industry. He's asking for major legislation from lawmakers in the first two weeks of their new legislative session. He's said in the past that he needs a "closing fund" like S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley has for last-minute pot-sweetening, and administration officials have said the state's Job Development Investment Grant fund has been running low.

Clearly, something needs to be done. And Republicans running the legislature, bless their fiscally conservative hearts, haven't shown much appetite for throwing ever-bigger wads of cash at corporate suitors. But rightly or wrongly, job recruiting has devolved into a state-eat-state bloodsport. Either you outbid the competition, or you offer such a superior quality of life and workforce that the money doesn't matter. (Hint: Google and Facebook aren't in California for the tax rates).

North Carolina used to have something like that California approach to economic development. We didn't sweat the bidding wars. We invested in schools and universities to make them among the strongest in the region. We developed a reputation, as the New York Times put it in a 2013 editorial, "as a beacon of farsightedness in the South." Despite a legacy of not offering the biggest pots of money to relocating corporations, we still ranked at or near the top of business climate and job creation lists for much of the past two decades.

Nowadays, we're struggling to keep our teacher pay respectable and keep teachers from leaving the state. Lawmakers have a decision to make: either go all-in on the bidding war, as the governor seems to be asking, or increase funding for the state's true job creators -- its schools and universities. Our recent history suggests the latter economic development model works just fine.

-- Eric Frazier